Dec 092018

Today is Anna’s Day in Sweden, which is both a name day celebrating people named Anna, and the day to start the preparation process of the lutefisk to be served on Christmas Eve.

OK – my sister is named Anna, so that’s a good start. I’m not going to write a post on her, but here’s her picture from facebook.

Then there’s Anna Harriette Emma Leonowens, an Anglo-Indian or Indian-born British travel writer, educator and social activist, who became well known with the publication of her memoirs, beginning with The English Governess at the Siamese Court (1870), which chronicled her experiences in Siam (modern Thailand), as teacher to the children of the Siamese King Mongkut, fictionalised in Margaret Landon’s 1944 best-selling novel Anna and the King of Siam, as well as films and television series based on the book, most notably Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1951 hit musical The King and I.

There’s Anna May Wong, the first Hong Kong-Chinese American Hollywood movie star, as well as the first Chinese American actress to gain international recognition, which is actually a cheat because she was born Wong Liu Tsong.

There’s also Anna Pavlova and Anna Freud who have posts here, and an alarming number of 19th century serial killers, as well as Russian tennis players and gymnasts. Maybe they are all named after Anna Karenina?

Let’s now turn to lutefisk. Garrison Keillor has this to say about lutefisk in his memories of Minnesota:

Every Advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark. I always felt the cold creeps as Advent approached, knowing that this dread delicacy would be put before me and I’d be told, “Just have a little.” Eating a little was like vomiting a little, just as bad as a lot.

The description “fishlike” is incorrect. It is not like fish, it is fish. His sentiment about it, however, is fairly widespread, including in Scandinavia. There are Scandinavians who love it, and those who hate it. There is no middle ground. I suspect that it is more popular among ex-pats at Christmas nowadays than among those living in Scandinavia where roast pork and roast turkey are common Christmas Eve treats.

Lutefisk is dried whitefish (normally cod, but ling and burbot are also used) treated with lye. The first step is soaking the stockfish in cold water for five to six days (with the water changed daily). The saturated stockfish is then soaked in an unchanged solution of cold water and lye for an additional two days. The fish swells during this soaking, and its protein content decreases by more than 50 percent, producing a jelly-like consistency. When this treatment is finished, the fish (saturated with lye) is caustic, with a pH of 11–12. To make the fish edible, a final treatment of yet another four to six days of soaking in cold water (also changed daily) is needed. Eventually, the lutefisk is ready to be cooked.

After the preparation, the lutefisk is saturated with water and must therefore be cooked extremely carefully so that it does not fall to pieces. To create a firm consistency in lutefisk, it is common to spread a layer of salt over the fish about half an hour before it is cooked. This will release some of the water in the fish. The salt must be rinsed off carefully before cooking. Lutefisk does not need additional water for the cooking; it is sufficient to place it in a pan, salt it, seal the lid tightly, and let it steam cook under a very low heat for 20–25 minutes. An alternative is to wrap in aluminium foil and bake at 225 °C (435 °F) for 40–50 minutes. Another option is to parboil lutefisk; wrapped in cheesecloth and gently boiled until tender. Lutefisk can also be boiled directly in a pan of water.

When cooking and eating lutefisk, it is important to clean the lutefisk and its residue off pans, plates, and utensils immediately. Lutefisk left overnight becomes nearly impossible to remove. Sterling silver should never be used in the cooking, serving or eating of lutefisk, which will permanently ruin silver. Stainless steel utensils are recommended instead.

In Sweden and Finland lutefisk is a part of the Christmas tradition and is mostly eaten with boiled potatoes, green peas and white sauce. Regional variations include a sprinkle of freshly ground allspice or black pepper and the addition of coarsely ground mustard in the white sauce (in Scania). In parts of Jämtland it is served on flat bread along with whey cheese.

In the United States lutefisk is often served with a variety of side dishes, including bacon, peas, pea stew, potatoes, lefse, gravy, mashed rutabaga, white sauce, melted or clarified butter, syrup, and geitost, or “old” cheese (gammelost). It is sometimes eaten with meatballs, which is not traditional in Scandinavia. Side dishes vary greatly from family to family and region to region, and can be a source of jovial contention when eaters of different “traditions” of lutefisk dine together.

Lutefisk prepared from cod is somewhat notorious, even in Scandinavia, for its intensely offensive odor. Conversely, lutefisk prepared from pollock or haddock emits almost no odor. The taste of well-prepared lutefisk is very mild, and the white sauce is often spiced with pepper or other strong-tasting spices. In Minnesota, this method (seasoned with allspice) is common among Swedish-Americans, while Norwegian-Americans often prefer to eat it unseasoned with melted butter or cream sauce.

There are many wholly apocryphal stories about the origin of lutefisk.  The one that amuses me claims that St. Patrick attempted to poison Viking raiders in Ireland with lye-soaked fish, but rather than kill them, the Vikings relished the fish and declared it a delicacy.

Jul 142018

Today is the birthday (1918) of Ernst Ingmar Bergman, a Swedish director, writer, and producer who worked in film, television, theatre and radio, and considered to be among the most accomplished and influential filmmakers of all time. Bergman directed over 60 films and documentaries for cinematic release and for television, most of which he also wrote. He also directed over 170 plays. From 1953, he forged a powerful creative partnership with his full-time cinematographer Sven Nykvist. Among his company of actors were Harriet and Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Gunnar Björnstrand, Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin and Max von Sydow. Most of his films were set in Sweden, and numerous films from Through a Glass Darkly (1961) onward were filmed on the island of Fårö. His work often deals with death, illness, faith, betrayal, bleakness and insanity.

Bergman was born in Uppsala, the son of Erik Bergman, a Lutheran minister and later chaplain to the king of Sweden, and Karin (née Åkerblom), a nurse who also had Walloon ancestors. He grew up with his older brother Dag and sister Margareta surrounded by religious imagery and discussion. His father was a conservative parish minister with strict ideas of parenting. Ingmar was locked up in dark closets for “infractions”, such as wetting the bed.  Ingmar wrote in his autobiography Laterna Magica,

While father preached away in the pulpit and the congregation prayed, sang, or listened I devoted my interest to the church’s mysterious world of low arches, thick walls, the smell of eternity, the coloured sunlight quivering above the strangest vegetation of medieval paintings and carved figures on ceilings and walls. There was everything that one’s imagination could desire—angels, saints, dragons, prophets, devils, humans.

Alth­­­ough raised in a devout Lutheran household, Bergman later stated that he lost his faith when aged 8, and only came to terms with this fact while making Winter Light in 1962. His interest in theater and film began early. At the age of nine, he traded a set of tin soldiers for a magic lantern, a possession, he claimed, altered the course of his life. Within a year, he had created a private world in which he felt completely at home, he recalled. He fashioned his own scenery, marionettes, and lighting effects and gave puppet productions of Strindberg plays in which he spoke all the parts.

Bergman attended Palmgren’s School as a teenager. His school years were unhappy, and he remembered them unfavorably in later years. In a 1944 letter concerning the film Torment (sometimes known as Frenzy), which sparked debate on the condition of Swedish high schools (and which Bergman had written), the school’s principal Henning Håkanson wrote, among other things, that Bergman had been a “problem child”. Bergman wrote in a response that he had strongly disliked the emphasis on homework and testing in his formal schooling.

In 1934, aged 16, Bergman was sent to Germany to spend the summer holidays with family friends. He attended a Nazi rally in Weimar at which he saw Adolf Hitler. He later wrote in Laterna Magica, about the visit to Germany, describing how the German family had put a portrait of Hitler on the wall by his bed, and that “for many years, I was on Hitler’s side, delighted by his success and saddened by his defeats”. Bergman commented that “Hitler was unbelievably charismatic. He electrified the crowd. … The Nazism I had seen seemed fun and youthful”. Bergman did two five-month stretches in Sweden of mandatory military service.

He entered Stockholm University College (later renamed Stockholm University) in 1937, to study art and literature. He spent most of his time involved in student theatre and became a “genuine movie addict”. Although he did not graduate, he wrote a number of plays and an opera, and became an assistant director at a theatre. In 1942, he was given the opportunity to direct one of his own scripts, Caspar’s Death. The play was seen by members of Svensk Filmindustri, which then offered Bergman a position working on scripts.

Bergman’s film career began in 1941 with his work rewriting scripts, but his first major accomplishment was in 1944 when he wrote the screenplay for Torment (Hets), a film directed by Alf Sjöberg. Along with writing the screenplay, he was also appointed assistant director of the film. In his second autobiographical book, Images: My Life in Film, Bergman describes the filming of the exteriors as his actual film directorial debut.[20] The film sparked debate on Swedish formal education. When Henning Håkanson (the principal of the high school Bergman had attended) wrote a letter following the film’s release, Bergman, according to scholar Frank Gado, disparaged in a response what he viewed as Håkanson’s implication that students “who did not fit some arbitrary prescription of worthiness deserved the system’s cruel neglect”. Bergman also stated in the letter that he “hated school as a principle, as a system and as an institution. And as such I have definitely not wanted to criticize my own school, but all schools.” The international success of this film led to Bergman’s first opportunity to direct a year later. During the next ten years he wrote and directed more than a dozen films, including Prison (Fängelse) in 1949, as well as Sawdust and Tinsel (Gycklarnas afton) and Summer with Monika (Sommaren med Monika), both from 1953.

Bergman first achieved worldwide success with Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens leende) (1955), which won for “Best poetic humour” and was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes the following year. This was followed by The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) and Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället), released in Sweden ten months apart in 1957. The Seventh Seal won a special jury prize and was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and Wild Strawberries won numerous awards for Bergman and its star, Victor Sjöström. Bergman continued to be productive for the next two decades. From the early 1960s, he spent much of his life on the island of Fårö, where he made several films.

In the early 1960s he directed three films that explored the theme of faith and doubt in God, Through a Glass Darkly (Såsom i en Spegel, 1961), Winter Light (Nattvardsgästerna, 1962), and The Silence (Tystnaden, 1963). Critics created the notion that the common themes in these three films made them a trilogy or cinematic triptych. Bergman initially responded that he did not plan these three films as a trilogy and that he could not see any common motifs in them, but he later seemed to adopt the notion, with some equivocation.

In 1966, he directed Persona, a film that he himself considered one of his most important works. While the highly experimental film won few awards, many consider it his masterpiece. Other notable films of the period include The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan, 1960), Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen, 1968), Shame (Skammen, 1968) and The Passion of Anna (En Passion, 1969). He and his cinematographer Sven Nykvist made oft-noted use of a crimson color scheme for Cries and Whispers (1972), which is among Bergman’s most acclaimed films. He also produced extensively for Swedish television at this time. Two works of note were Scenes from a Marriage (Scener ur ett äktenskap, 1973) and The Magic Flute (Trollflöjten, 1975).

On 30th January 1976, while rehearsing August Strindberg’s The Dance of Death at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, Bergman was arrested by two plainclothes police officers and charged with income tax evasion. The impact of the event on Bergman was devastating. He suffered a breakdown as a result of the humiliation, and was hospitalized in a state of deep depression. The investigation was focused on an alleged 1970 transaction of 500,000 Swedish kronor (SEK) between Bergman’s Swedish company Cinematograf and its Swiss subsidiary, Persona, an entity that was mainly used for paying salaries to foreign actors. Bergman dissolved Persona in 1974 after having been notified by the Swedish Central Bank and subsequently reported the income. On 23rd March 1976, the special prosecutor Anders Nordenadler dropped the charges against Bergman, saying that the alleged crime had no legal basis, saying it would be like bringing “charges against a person who has stolen his own car, thinking it was someone else’s”. Director General Gösta Ekman, chief of the Swedish Internal Revenue Service, defended the failed investigation, saying that the investigation was dealing with important legal material and that Bergman was treated just like any other suspect. He expressed regret that Bergman had left the country, hoping that Bergman was a “stronger” person now when the investigation had shown that he had not done any wrong.

Even though the charges were dropped, Bergman became disconsolate, fearing he would never again return to directing. Despite pleas by the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme, high public figures, and leaders of the film industry, he vowed never to work in Sweden again. He closed down his studio on the island of Fårö, suspended two announced film projects, and went into self-imposed exile in Germany. Harry Schein, director of the Swedish Film Institute, estimated the immediate damage as 10 million Swedish kronor and hundreds of jobs lost.

Bergman then briefly considered the possibility of working in the US. His next film, The Serpent’s Egg (1977) was a German-U.S. production and his second English-language film (the first being 1971’s The Touch). This was followed by a British-Norwegian co-production, Autumn Sonata (Höstsonaten, 1978) starring Ingrid Bergman, and From the Life of the Marionettes (Aus dem Leben der Marionetten, 1980) which was a British-German co-production.

He temporarily returned to Sweden in 1982, to direct Fanny and Alexander (Fanny och Alexander). Bergman stated that the film would be his last, and that afterwards he would focus on directing theatre. After that, he wrote several film scripts and directed a number of television specials. As with previous work for TV, some of these productions were later released in theatres. The last such work was Saraband (2003), a sequel to Scenes from a Marriage and directed by Bergman when he was 84 years old.

Although he continued to operate from Munich, by mid-1978 Bergman had overcome some of his bitterness toward the government of Sweden. In July of that year he visited Sweden, celebrating his 60th birthday on the island of Fårö, and partly resumed his work as a director at Royal Dramatic Theatre. To honor his return, the Swedish Film Institute launched a new Ingmar Bergman Prize to be awarded annually for excellence in filmmaking. Still, he remained in Munich until 1984. In one of the last major interviews with Bergman, conducted in 2005 on the island of Fårö, Bergman said that despite being active during the exile, he had effectively lost 8 years of his professional life.

Bergman retired from filmmaking in December 2003. He had hip surgery in October 2006 and was making a difficult recovery. He died in his sleep at age 89. His body was found at his home on the island of Fårö, on 30th July 2007. (It was the same day another renowned film director, Michelangelo Antonioni, also died.) The interment was private, at the Fårö Church on 18th August 2007. A place in the Fårö churchyard was prepared for him under heavy secrecy. Although he was buried on the island of Fårö, his name and date of birth were inscribed under his wife’s name on a tomb at Roslagsbro churchyard, Norrtälje Municipality, several years before his death.

Winter Light is one of Bergman’s movies that attracts me the most,  although I also like his interpretation of Mozart’s Magic Flute. I first saw Winter Light at a free screening at a church near my college at Oxford in my first week as a freshman studying theology. That was, without doubt, one of the oddest experiences of my life. There I was, a completely green student, with no real sense of which end was up in my life, watching a movie about the futility of Christianity, the angst of a pastor, and the mixed emotions of his meager congregation, while I was supposedly embarking on a career as a pastor myself. Meanwhile, the showing of the movie was followed by a tediously pointless sermon (that went on forever), by the vicar – who was a sort of local celebrity – “explaining” how Bergman’s view of the church was all wrong. Yes folks, contrary to Bergman’s vision, the church was alive and well, actively welcoming young students into the fold. Ugh. I got more than my fair share of this vicar’s pontificating over the course of my first year, aided and abetted by a cascade of Anglican dons as tutors and lecturers who turned me completely against any kind of vocation in the ministry for over 20 years. I was much more on Bergman’s side for a long time.  Ten years later, Magic Flute was a helpful antidote, although by then I was more than well on my way to being an anthropologist with an interest in religion from an academic standpoint, but not in any personal sense.

Here is a recipe for raggmunk, Swedish potato pancakes, traditionally served with salt pork and lingonberry jam. You can use thick-cut bacon instead of the salt pork if you like. This is common in Sweden.



1 egg
90 gm buckwheat flour
300ml milk
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
800 gm peeled and grated potatoes
50 gm butter
400 gm salt pork or thick cured bacon
lingonberry jam


Mix the flour and milk to a smooth paste, then add the egg and beat well. Season with salt and let rest for a few minutes. Mix in the grated potatoes.

Heat the butter over medium heat in a skillet until it sizzles but before it browns. Shape the pancake dough into patties and fry them on both sides until golden brown. Serve immediately with fried salt pork and  a generous helping of lingonberry jam.

Feb 062018

Today is Sámi National Day, an ethnic national day for the Sámi people that falls on February 6th because this date was when the first Sámi congress was held in 1917 in Trondheim. This congress was the first time that Norwegian and Swedish Sámi came together across their national borders to work together to find solutions for common problems. In 1992, at the 15th Sámi Conference in Helsinki, a resolution was passed that Sámi National Day should be celebrated on February 6th. Sámi National Day is a celebration for all Sámi, regardless of where they live, and on that day the Sámi flag should be flown and the Sámi national anthem is sung in the local Sámi dialect.

Through pure coincidence, this date also happened to be when representatives of the Sámi of the Kola Peninsula used to gather annually, meeting with Russian bureaucrats to debate and decide on issues of relevance to them. This body, called the Koladak Sobbar, has been called the ‘first Sámi Parliament’ by the researcher Johan Albert Kalstad. This information did not influence the choice of this date as the Sámi People’s Day, given that the people present did not know about it – the Koladak Sobbar existed during the late 19th century only, and was not ‘rediscovered’ by Kalstad until the 21st century.

Before I continue talking about the Sámi people in general, I want to point out that this celebration is really a model for indigenous peoples who are ethnic minorities, and who are scattered across national boundaries. The Sámi (often called Lapps in English) represent only about 5% of the population in the region where they live which spreads across northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Long ago, they were the majority in the region, but they were slowly encroached upon by Scandinavians and Russians. The enduring question is how to maintain some degree of autonomy and unity in the face of pressures to assimilate to national cultures, especially when these nations fragment the region where they live – called Sápmi in Sámi (Lapland in English). The term Lapp (and European cognates) is sometimes seen as derogatory because it is an outsider term. It has no pejorative connotations that I know of, but it is best not to use it. Apparently, the Sámi object less to Lapland than to Lapp.

If we look at language first we can get a sense of the geography and distribution of the Sámi. The Saamic languages are the region’s main minority languages and also, of course, its original languages. They belong to the Uralic language family, and are most closely related to the Finnic languages. Many Sámi languages are mutually unintelligible, but the languages originally formed a dialect continuum stretching southwest-northeast, so that a message could hypothetically be passed between Sámi speakers from one end to the other and be understood by all. Today, however, many of the languages are all but extinct, and thus there are “gaps” in the original continuum.

On the map above numbers indicate Sámi Languages (Darkened areas represent municipalities that recognize Sámi as an official language.): 1. South (Åarjil) Sámi, 2. Ume (Upme) Sámi, 3. Pite (Bitthun) Sámi, 4. Lule (Julev) Sámi, 5. North (Davvi) Sámi, 6. Skolt Sámi, 7. Inari (Ánár) Sámi, 8. Kildin Sámi, 9. Ter Sámi. Of these languages the Northern one is by far the most vital, whereas Ume, Pite and Ter seem to be dying languages. Kemi Sámi is extinct.

Since prehistoric times, the Sámi people of Arctic Europe have lived and worked in an area that stretches over the northern parts of the regions now known as Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Russian Kola Peninsula. They have inhabited the northern arctic and sub-arctic regions of Fenno-Scandinavia and Russia for at least 5,000 years. The Sámi are counted among the Arctic peoples and are members of circumpolar groups such as the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat. Petroglyphs and archeological findings such as settlements dating from about 10,000 BCE can be found in the traditional lands of the Sámi. These hunters and gatherers of the late Paleolithic and early Mesolithic were named Komsa by the researchers because what they called themselves is unknown.

Recent archaeological discoveries in Finnish Lapland were originally seen as the continental version of the Komsa culture about the same age as the earliest finds on the coast of Norway. It is hypothesized that the Komsa followed receding glaciers inland from the Arctic coast at the end of the last ice age (between 11000 and 8000 BCE) as new land opened up for settlement (e.g., modern Finnmark area in the northeast of Norway, to the coast of the Kola Peninsula). For long periods of time, the Sámi lifestyle thrived because of its adaptation to the Arctic environment. Throughout the 18th century, as Norwegians of Northern Norway suffered from low fish prices and consequent depopulation, the Sámi cultural element was strengthened, since the Sámi were mostly independent of supplies from Southern Norway.

During the 19th century, Norwegian authorities pressured the Sámi to adopt Norwegian language and culture universal. Strong economic development of the north also ensued, giving Norwegian culture and language higher status. On the Swedish and Finnish sides, the authorities were less militant, although the Sámi language was forbidden in schools and strong economic development in the north led to weakened cultural and economic status for the Sámi. From 1913 to 1920, the Swedish race-segregation political movement created a race-based biological institute that collected research material from living people and graves, and sterilized Sámi women. Throughout history, Swedish settlers were encouraged to move to the northern regions through incentives such as land and water rights, tax allowances, and military exemptions.

The strongest pressure took place from around 1900 to 1940, when Norway invested considerable money and effort to wipe out Sámi culture. Anyone who wanted to buy or lease state lands for agriculture in Finnmark had to prove knowledge of the Norwegian language and had to register with a Norwegian name. This caused the dislocation of Sámi people in the 1920s, which increased the gap between local Sámi groups (something still present today) that sometimes has the character of an internal Sámi ethnic conflict. In 1913, the Norwegian parliament passed a bill on “native act land” to allocate the best and most useful lands to Norwegian settlers. Another factor was the scorched earth policy conducted by the German army, resulting in heavy war destruction in northern Finland and northern Norway in 1944–45, destroying all existing houses, or kota, and visible traces of Sámi culture. After World War II the pressure was relaxed though the legacy was evident into recent times, such as the 1970s law limiting the size of any house Sámi people were allowed to build.

The controversy over the construction of the hydro-electric power station in Alta in 1979 brought Sámi rights to the political agenda. In August 1986, the national anthem (“Sámi soga lávlla”) and flag (Sámi flag) of the Sámi people were created. In 1989, the first Sámi parliament in Norway was elected. In 2005, the Finnmark Act was passed in the Norwegian parliament giving the Sámi parliament and the Finnmark Provincial council a joint responsibility of administering the land areas previously considered state property. These areas (96% of the provincial area), which have always been used primarily by the Sámi, now belong officially to the people of the province, whether Sámi or Norwegian, and not to the Norwegian state.

The indigenous Sámi population are mostly urbanized, but a substantial number live in villages in the high arctic. The Sámi are still coping with the cultural consequences of language and culture loss related to generations of Sámi children taken to missionary and/or state-run boarding schools and the legacy of laws that were created to deny the Sámi rights (e.g., freedom of beliefs, use of indigenous language, land ownership, and freedom to practice traditional livelihoods). The Sámi are experiencing cultural and environmental threats, including oil exploration, mining, dam building, logging, climate change, military bombing ranges, tourism, and commercial development.

The Sámi have for centuries been the subject of discrimination and abuse by the dominant cultures claiming possession of their lands down to the present day. They have never been a single community in a single region of Lapland, with political autonomy. Norway has been greatly criticized by the international community for the politics of assimilation of and discrimination against the aboriginal peoples of the country. On 8 April 2011, the UN Racial Discrimination Committee recommendations were handed over to Norway. These addressed many issues, including the educational situation for students needing bilingual education in Sámi. One committee recommendation was that no language be allowed to be a basis for discrimination in the Norwegian anti-discrimination laws, and it recommended wording of Racial Discrimination Convention Article 1 contained in the Act. Further points of recommendation concerning the Sámi population in Norway included the incorporation of the racial Convention through the Human Rights Act, improving the availability and quality of interpreter services, and equality of the civil Ombudsman’s recommendations for action. A new present status report was to have been ready by the end of 2012.

Even in Finland, where Sámi children, like all Finnish children, are entitled to day care and language instruction in their own language, the Finnish government has denied funding for these rights in most of the country, including even in Rovaniemi, the largest municipality in Finnish Lapland. Sámi activists have pushed for nationwide application of these basic rights.

As in the other countries claiming sovereignty over Sámi lands, Sámi activists’ efforts in Finland in the 20th century achieved limited government recognition of Sámi rights as an ethnic minority, but the Finnish government has clung unyieldingly to its legally enforced premise that the Sámi must “prove” their land ownership, an idea incompatible with and antithetical to the traditional reindeer-herding Sámi way of life. This has effectively allowed the Finnish government to take land occupied by the Sámi for centuries without compensation.

On Sámi National Day, not only do Sámi throughout Sápmi raise the national flag and sing the national song, they also do a range of activities traditionally associated with Sámi culture, such as wear traditional dress, make traditional dishes and play or listen to traditional music.

A characteristic feature of Sámi musical tradition is the singing of yoik (also spelled joik). Yoiks are song-chants and are traditionally sung a cappella, usually sung slowly and deep in the throat with apparent emotional content of sorrow or anger. Yoiks can be dedicated to animals and birds in nature, special people or special occasions, and they can be joyous, sad, or melancholic. They often are based on syllablic improvisation. In recent years, musical instruments frequently accompany yoiks. The only traditional Sámi instruments that were sometimes used to accompany yoik are the “fadno” flute (made from reed-like Angelica archangelica stems) and hand drums (frame drums and bowl drums).

Traditional foods of the Sámi involve reindeer, fish, and flatbread. Reindeer is absolutely the most characteristic ingredient, because the Sámi for centuries were reindeer herders. Traditionally, the reindeer were not fully domesticated, but the Sámi were nomadic, following the herds on their seasonal migrations. You might have trouble getting hold of some reindeer to roast, but you might be able to make flatbread.

Gáhkko is a traditional Sámi flatbread that has a faint taste of anise. It uses yeast, so it is puffier than other flatbreads, and it is also more complex than most. The most traditional method of cooking is in a dry, cast-iron skillet over an open fire, but a stovetop works as well. This is but one recipe. There are countless styles. You can use a number of sugar syrups in place of Golden Syrup, but do not use corn syrup. If you wish, you can cut fewer breads than described here and make them larger.



3 ½ oz/100 gm butter, melted
2 tbsp Golden Syrup
2 tsp anise
2 pints/1 liter milk
2 oz/50 gm yeast
1 tsp salt
2 – 2 ½ lb/1-1.2 kg flour


Place the melted butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the anise and syrup and stir well until the syrup has been thoroughly incorporated with the butter. Mix in the milk and heat until lukewarm. Remove from the heat.

Crumble the yeast into milk mixture and stir well until it has dissolved. Pour into a large mixing bowl.

Add the flour and salt to the liquid. Add the flour slowly and mix only until you have a smooth dough. Do not add too much flour. It can be slightly sticky. Turn out on to a flat surface, lightly floured if need be, and knead for about 20 minutes.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let it rise in a warm place for about 1 hour.

Turn the dough on to a flat surface again and knead it again. Then roll the dough into a long sausage, and cut it into about 40 small pieces. Roll the pieces into small balls with your hands and let them rest for about 5 minutes.

Press the balls flat and pat them between your palms until you have round breads about ¼ inch thick. Let them for about 30 minutes.

Bake the breads in batches in a dry frying pan on a campfire or on the stovetop for about 5-6 minutes on each side. They are cooked when they are golden-brown on both sides.

Let the gáhkko cool, but eat immediately. They can be eaten with soups or stews, or with sliced cheese.



Jun 102017

The Ursaab (original Saab), also known as 92001 and X9248, the first of four prototype cars made by Saab AB, (which at that time was solely an airplane manufacturer), was unveiled to the public on this date in 1947 at Saab AB’s headquarters.  It led eventually to a production model, the Saab 92, in 1949. A little glimpse into the creative engineering that went into the prototype helps explain why Saab proved so successful over time.  Trump recently railed against Germany for unfair trade practices for exporting its (superb) cars to the US, yet does not import US cars into Germany. Sweden could equally well be accused of making great cars, as could Japan – and not importing US models.  In my humble opinion, US car manufacture was at one time revolutionary, but now simply cannot compete in the global market because the big US car companies have, for a long time, had no interest in advancing their technology.  Henry Ford revolutionized factory production in general with the moving assembly line, and blew away the competition . Industry was changed forever. But then US car manufacture rested on its laurels while new car companies with new ideas sprang up in Europe and Asia, especially in the postwar years, while the US just looked on and said how unfair it all was.  This is how Saab did it.

Saab AB, a manufacturer of warplanes, started an automobile design project in 1945, with the internal name X9248. The design project became formally known as Project 92; the 92 being next in production sequence after the Saab 91, a single engine trainer aircraft. The aim was to design a car that would compete with small German cars like Opel Kadett, DKW and Adler. The target consumer price was 3200 Swedish kroner. Bror Bjurströmer, who was then head of the design department, developed a 1:25 scale sketch and the overall design specifications, which included the following: a wheelbase of 2.75 meters (108.3 in) and total length of 4.5 meters (177.2 in); employment of a monocoque (single skin) design; 50% less drag than other cars; 800 kilogram maximum weight; power from a transverse-mounted two-stroke engine; and front-wheel drive. The choice of rear-hinged doors was made by Gunnar Ljungström (head of the development team) as he wanted to lessen the risk of damaging doors whilst driving out of a garage. The company made four prototypes, 92001 through to 92004, before designing the production model, the Saab 92, in 1949.

Development was started in Linköping by a 16-person team led by engineer Gunnar Ljungström and designer Sixten Sason. The immediately preceding Saab production code was for an aeroplane – the Saab 91 Safir. It was for this reason that the first car project was called the Saab 92. Normally the development would have been handled by the testing workshop, but it was busy with the Saab 91 Safir and the Saab 90 Scandia. Thus the tool workshop, which had a lighter workload at that juncture, was given the assignment.

The engineers responsible for making the prototype had no prior experience in making cars, and out of the 16 engineers only two had a driving license. They needed information about the car manufacturing process, but had to simultaneously keep the project secret. A few visits were made to Nyköpings Automobilfabrik (later ANA), but as the extent of their work involved the simple installation of bodies on imported ladder frame chassis, the engineers were not able to gather as much information as they had hoped. Also, since all available literature only described how cars were made before the war, they realized that much of the manufacturing process would have to be learned on their own. Close to Saab AB’s factory a junkyard provided the engineers with both parts and inspiration. They also purchased a number of cars to study, including a DKW, a Hanomag, an Opel Kadett and a Volkswagen.

Structural integrity concerns led to other design decisions. The team tasked with that portion of the project was used to building aircraft where every opening was covered with a load-bearing hatch. Since this was not viable on an automobile, it was decided that the body structure should be strengthened through the use of a rear window that was as small as possible and which used a split-window design, and omission of a rear boot (trunk) lid.

Because the car had to have a very low drag coefficient, aerodynamic tests were part of the early evaluations. Thus, the body was of novel design and, with safety in mind, it provided damage-resistance in the event of an accident. Winter driving capability was enhanced via front-wheel-drive and wide wheel arches which allowed for snow accumulation without obstruction of the wheels.

Using some carpenters from Motala, a full sized mock-up in alder wood was built in the spring of 1946. The model was colored black using shoe polish. Some extra workers were recruited from Thorells Kylarfabrik in Linköping for building the steel body. Hand-shaping the 1.2 mm thick steel sheets proved to be difficult work. By summer 1946 the first prototype body was ready, hand beaten on a wooden jig. Shaping of the metal was done in Saab’s secret factory 30 meters below ground.

The color proved to be a problem. The managing director wanted it painted black, but the vice director wanted it blue. However, the workshop had already purchased black paint, making this a moot point. The Saab AB paint workshop did not have the capacity to handle the paint job so the builders contacted Aktiebolaget Svenska Järnvägsverkstäderna (ASJ), the Swedish railroad works in Arlöv. This firm was experienced in painting railway cars and buses. Having been told that their assistance was needed in painting a car, the company was initially reluctant to help since it was thought that the vehicle was a management car such as a DeSoto or something that would take a lot of time. However, when it was learned that the vehicle was a prototype of a new car, ASJ quickly took the job.

The prototype had a borrowed 13 kW (18 hp) two-cylinder two-stroke engine, which was placed transversely in the front of the vehicle. The first engine and gearbox came from a DKW vehicle, but they were later replaced with an engine and gearbox designed by Gunnar Ljungström. The prototype engine blocks were made by Albinmotor. The head of the firm, Albin Larsson, was hesitant to take work since the cooling pipes in the engine block were considered to be complicated. After test driving the prototype, however, Larsson changed his mind.

Ursaab was driven over 530,000 kilometers (330,000 mi), typically in utter secrecy, and usually on narrow and muddy forest roads and in early mornings or late nights. Today it is in the Saab museum in Trollhättan, with a polished grille and more modern headlights.

Linköping where the prototype Ursaab was developed is in Östergötland where pearl barley is a traditional staple. Korngryn och rotsaker (pearl barley with root vegetables) is a classic dish served either hot or cold.  I can’t quite understand why southern swedes make so much over this dish because it seems so ordinary and bland. But I suppose, that’s how I would describe Swedish cuisine in general. Hot this dish may accompany lammstek med timja-rödvinsås (roast lamb with a red wine sauce), or, it can be served cold as a salad dish when tossed in some olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Korngryn och rotsaker


100 g (½ cup) pearl barley
salt and pepper
450 g (3 cups) mixed vegetables (such as carrots, parsnips, leeks, red onion and celery), cut into large chunks
1 tbsp  olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley


Rinse the pearl barley thoroughly by placing it in a sieve and running it under cold water.

Bring 2 cups of salted water to the boil, add the barley, cover, and simmer gently for 25 minutes. Check for doneness. Cook more and add a little more water if needed.

When the pearl barley is cooked, pour it into a sieve, rinse under cold water and drain.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a preheated 400°F oven for about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic and rosemary.  Stir the aromatics around in the oil, add the vegetables and toss them so that they are coated with the seasoned oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Bake for about 20 minutes, then add the drained pearl barley and continue cooking until everything is a golden color.

Serve warm garnished with parsley, or leave to cool, chill, and serve tossed with a little extra oil and balsamic vinegar.

Jan 132016


Today is Tjugondag jul (“Twentieth Day Yule”), or Tjugondag Knut (“Twentieth Day Knut”), or Knutomasso, in English, Saint Knut’s Day, (Finnish: nuutinpäivä), a traditional festival celebrated in Sweden and Finland on 13 January. It is not celebrated in Denmark despite being named for the Danish prince Canute Lavard, and later also associated with his uncle, Canute the Saint, the patron saint of Denmark. Christmas trees are taken down on Tjugondag jul, and the candies and cookies that decorated the tree are eaten. In Sweden, the feast held during this event is called a Christmas tree plundering (Julgransplundring). In other words, in Sweden and Finland Christmas is really, really, really over.


Canute Lavard (Knut Levard in Swedish) was a Danish duke who was assassinated by his cousin and rival Magnus Nilsson on 7 January 1131 so he could usurp the Danish throne. In the aftermath of his death there was a civil war, which led to Knut being later declared a saint, and 7 January became Knut’s Day, a name day. As his name day roughly coincided with Epiphany (the “thirteenth day of Christmas”), Knut’s Day and Epiphany were more or less conflated. In 1680, Knut’s Day was moved to 13 January and became known as tjugondag Knut or tjugondedag jul (the “twentieth day of Knut/Christmas”).


On Nuutinpäivä in Finland, there has been a tradition somewhat analogous to modern Santa Claus, where young men dressed as a goat (Finnish: Nuuttipukki) would visit houses. Usually the costume was an inverted fur jacket, a leather or birch bark mask, and horns. Unlike Santa Claus, Nuuttipukki was a scary character (like Krampus ). The men dressed as Nuuttipukki wandered from house to house, came in, and typically demanded food from the household and especially leftover alcoholic beverages. In Finland the Nuuttipukki tradition is still alive in Satakunta, Southwest Finland and Ostrobothnia. However, nowadays the character is usually played by children and is rather mild and playful.

A proverb from Noormarkku says: Hyvä Tuomas joulun tua, paha Knuuti poijes viä or “Good [St.] Thomas brings the Christmas, evil Knut takes [it] away.”

Christmas tree plundering (Swedish: Julgransplundring) is a tradition in Sweden on St. Knut’s Day, marking the end of the Christmas and holiday season. It is also known as “Dancing out Christmas” (Dansa ut julen) or “Throw out the Tree” (Kasta ut granen). It is mentioned in the Old Farmer’s Almanac that “King Knut asked them for help to drive out Christmas”. In traditional Swedish agrarian society, children would run from farm to farm to “call out Christmas” (ropa ut julen), that is call out that Christmas had ended and beg for food and drink.


The present day tradition has changed very little since the 1870s. During the 20th century, Christmas tree plundering became mainly associated with children and candy. The observance of the feast peaked during the period 1950–70. In private homes, there is often a party primarily for children. The Christmas decorations are then put aside. Such parties are also common in schools, kindergartens, churches and other places. In many towns, the illumination of the public Christmas tree is switched off, accompanied by an outdoor Christmas tree plundering for the community. In some areas the feast is known as Julgransskakning (“Shaking the Christmas tree”).


Party activities involve singing and dancing around the Christmas tree, “looting” the tree of ornamental candy and apples, smashing the gingerbread house into pieces and eating it, opening Christmas crackers that have been used as decorations on the tree, lotteries, creating a fiskdamm (“fishing pond”) where children “fish” for toys and candy, or a treasure hunt. The songs and dances are essentially the same as those performed at Christmas and Midsummer with some additions of songs about the end of Christmas such as Raska fötter springa tripp, tripp, tripp:


During the 20th century, Christmas trees were literally thrown out of the window or from the balcony, on to the street once they had been “plundered” and stripped of all ornaments. Since the beginning of the 21st century, areas for dumping the trees are designated by local authorities but even by 2015, spontaneous and illegal dumping grounds were still a problem. Some customs die hard.

I like the idea of smashing the Christmas gingerbread house and eating it. Getting rid of my gingerbread house was always tough. I put a great deal of effort into it 30 years ago. It started off reasonably simply using a commercial template with a basic gingerbread recipe. But in the process my wife got so carried away with the decorating that we did not want to eat it or discard it. So we kept it until the next Christmas . . . then the next. But it was getting tattered by then, so we threw it out in the woods where it was descended upon by birds and wild animals within minutes of leaving it. Next year we built a barn replete with marzipan farm animals. Then I went completely mad the next year making a replica of Caernarvon castle including an array of knights on horseback. After that I settled for a few gingerbread cookies as a token.

xmas6 xmas9 xmas8

LONDON - DECEMBER 04: A gv of a gingerbread Houses of Parliment and London Eye creation by Chef Beate Woellstein at the Grosvenor House Hotel on December 4, 2007 in London, England. The creation is 2.5 diameters and used 50 kilos of gingerbread dough. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Here’s my standard recipe for gingerbread to make a house. For a simple house this will be enough. For more elaborate displays you’ll need several batches.



250g unsalted butter
200g dark muscovado sugar
7 tbsp golden syrup
600g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
bicarbonate of soda
4 tsp ground ginger


Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan.

Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger in a large bowl, then stir in the butter mixture to make a stiff dough. If it won’t quite come together, add a little water.

Chill overnight.

Heat the oven to 390°F/200°C

Roll the gingerbread out to about ¼ inch (6mm) thick on baking parchment. Using a template, cut out the house components and remove all excess (which you can re-roll).

Bake on the parchment on cookie sheets for about 12 minutes. It may still be a bit soft after this time, but will harden on cooling. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Assemble the house using stiff icing sugar. Then decorate as you wish.

Dec 132015


Today is the feast of Lucia of Syracuse (283–304), also known as Saint Lucy, or Saint Lucia (Italian: Santa Lucia), a young Christian martyr who died during the Diocletianic Persecution. She is venerated as a saint by the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Orthodox Churches. She is one of eight women, who along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

All that is really known for certain of Lucy is that she was a martyr in Syracuse during the Diocletianic Persecution of 304 AD. Her veneration spread to Rome, and by the 6th century to the whole Church. The oldest archaeological evidence comes from Greek inscriptions in the catacombs of St. John in Syracuse.

The oldest record of her story comes from the fifth-century. Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda Aurea was the most widely read version of the Lucy legend in the Middle Ages. In medieval accounts, Saint Lucy’s eyes are gouged out prior to her execution, but this element is not part of the earliest narratives.


All the details of her life are the conventional ones associated with female martyrs of the early 4th century. According to the traditional story, Lucy was born of rich and noble parents about the year 283. Her father was of Roman origin, but died when she was five years old, leaving Lucy and her mother without a protective guardian. Her mother’s name Eutychia, seems to indicate that she came of Greek stock. Like many of the early martyrs, Lucy had consecrated her virginity to God, and she hoped to distribute her dowry to the poor. However, Eutychia, not knowing of Lucy’s promise and, suffering from a bleeding disorder, feared for Lucy’s future. She arranged Lucy’s marriage to a young man of a wealthy pagan family.

Saint Agatha had been martyred 52 years earlier during the Decian persecution. Her shrine at Catania, less than fifty miles from Syracuse attracted a number of pilgrims, and many miracles were reported to have happened through her intercession. Eutychia was persuaded to make a pilgrimage to Catania, in hopes of a cure. While there, St. Agatha came to Lucy in a dream and told her that because of her faith her mother would be cured and that Lucy would be the glory of Syracuse, as she was of Catania. With her mother cured, Lucy took the opportunity to persuade her mother to allow her to distribute a great part of her riches among the poor.

Euthychia suggested that the sums would make a good bequest, but Lucy countered, “…whatever you give away at death for the Lord’s sake you give because you cannot take it with you. Give now to the true Savior, while you are healthy, whatever you intended to give away at your death.”


News that the patrimony and jewels were being distributed came to Lucy’s betrothed, who denounced her to Paschasius, the Governor of Syracuse. Paschasius ordered her to burn a sacrifice to the emperor’s image. When she refused Paschasius sentenced her to be defiled in a brothel. The Christian tradition states that when the guards came to take her away, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. Bundles of wood were then heaped about her and set on fire, but would not burn. Finally, she met her death by the sword.


By the 6th century, her story was sufficiently widespread that she appears in the Sacramentary of Pope Gregory I. She is also commemorated in the ancient Roman Martyrology. St. Aldhelm (d. 709) and later the Venerable Bede (d. 735) attest that her popularity had already spread to England, where her festival was kept until the Protestant Reformation, as a holy day of the second rank, in which no work except tillage or necessary farm work was allowed.


Lucy’s Latin name Lucia shares a root (luc-) with the Latin word for light, lux. This has played a large part in Saint Lucy being named as the patron saint of the blind and those with eye-trouble. She is also the patroness of Syracuse in Sicily. At the Piazza Duomo in Syracuse, the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia houses the painting “Burial of St. Lucy (Caravaggio)”. Saint Lucy is also the patron saint of the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, one of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles, ( ), and of the US state of Nebraska.

The feast of St Lucy falls in Advent and once coincided with the winter solstice, before the Gregorian calendar reform. So her feast day is conventionally a festival of light. This is particularly seen in Scandinavian countries, with their long dark winters. There, a young girl dressed in a white dress and a red sash (as the symbol of martyrdom) carries palms and wears a crown or wreath of candles on her head. In both Norway and Sweden, girls dressed as Lucy carry rolls and cookies in procession as songs are sung.


It is also a tradition in Sweden for the eldest daughter in the family to rise early and, wearing her Lucy garb of white robe, red sash, and a wire crown covered with whortleberry-twigs with nine lighted candles fastened in it, to wake the family, singing Sankta Lucia, serving them coffee and saffron buns (St. Lucia buns).

Devotion to St. Lucy is practiced in the Italian regions of Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, in the North of the country, and Sicily and Calabria, in the South, as well as in Croatian coastal region of Dalmatia. It is celebrated with large traditional feasts of home made pasta and various other Italian dishes, with a special dessert of wheat in hot chocolate milk (cuccia). The large grains of soft wheat are representative of her eyes and this dish is supposed to be made only once a year. In some parts of Sicily cuccia has evolved into a less soft pudding by adding ricotta.

lucia3 lucia12

In some parts of Italy it is still customary for Santa Lucia to bring gifts to good children and coal to bad ones on the night between December 12 and 13. According to tradition, she arrives in the company of a donkey and her escort, Castaldo. Children are asked to leave some coffee for Lucia, a carrot for the donkey and a glass of wine for Castaldo. They must not watch Santa Lucia delivering these gifts, or she will throw ashes in their eyes, temporarily blinding them. Like other gift giving customs associated with the Christmas season (e.g. St Nicholas, Epiphany etc.), this one appears to be dying in favor of gifts on Christmas Day itself.

It is Hungarian custom to plant wheat in a small pot on St. Lucy’s feast. By Christmas green sprouts appear, signs of life coming from death. The wheat is then carried to the manger scene.

lucia2 lucia11

Here’s an excellent website containing all manner of information about Saint Lucy’s Day in Sweden including recipes with plenty of images of the steps. I highly recommend saffron buns.

Nov 272015


Today is the birthday (1701) of Anders Celsius, a Swedish astronomer, physicist and mathematician. He was professor of astronomy at Uppsala University from 1730 to 1744, but traveled from 1732 to 1735 visiting notable observatories in Germany, Italy and France. He founded the Uppsala Astronomical Observatory in 1741, and in 1742 proposed a temperature scale which now bears his name.

Celsius was born in Uppsala in Sweden, but his family originated from Ovanåker in the province of Hälsingland. Their family estate was at Doma, also known as Höjen or Högen (locally as Högen 2). The name Celsius is a latinization of the estate’s name (Latin celsus “mound”).

As the son of an astronomy professor, Nils Celsius, and the grandson of the mathematician Magnus Celsius and the astronomer Anders Spole, Celsius chose a career in science. He was a talented mathematician from an early age. Anders Celsius studied at Uppsala University, where his father was a teacher, and in 1730 he too, became a professor of astronomy there.


In 1730, Celsius published the Nova Methodus distantiam solis a terra determinandi (New Method for Determining the Distance from the Earth to the Sun). His research also involved the study of auroral phenomena, which he conducted with his assistant Olof Hiorter, and he was the first to suggest a connection between the aurora borealis and changes in the magnetic field of the Earth. He observed the variations of a compass needle and found that larger deflections correlated with stronger auroral activity. At Nuremberg in 1733, he published a collection of 316 observations of the aurora borealis made by himself and others over the period 1716–1732.

Celsius traveled frequently in the early 1730s, including to Germany, Italy and France, when he visited most of the major European observatories. In Paris he advocated the measurement of an arc of the meridian in Lapland. In 1736, he participated in the expedition organized for that purpose by the French Academy of Sciences, led by the French mathematician Pierre Louis Maupertuis (1698–1759) to measure a degree of latitude. The aim of the expedition was to measure the length of a degree along a meridian, close to the pole, and compare the result with a similar expedition to Peru, near the equator. The expeditions confirmed Isaac Newton’s belief that the shape of the earth is an ellipsoid flattened at the poles.

In 1738, he published the De observationibus pro figura telluris determinanda (Observations on Determining the Shape of the Earth). Celsius’ participation in the Lapland expedition won him much respect in Sweden with the government and his peers, and played a key role in generating interest from the Swedish authorities in donating the resources required to construct a new modern observatory in Uppsala. He was successful in the request, and Celsius founded the Uppsala Astronomical Observatory in 1741. The observatory was equipped with instruments purchased during his long voyage abroad, comprising the most modern instrumental technology of the period.

In astronomy, Celsius began a series of observations using colored glass plates to record the magnitude (a measure of brightness) of certain stars. This was the first attempt to measure the intensity of starlight with a tool other than the human eye. He made observations of eclipses and various astronomical objects and published catalogs of carefully determined magnitudes for some 300 stars using his own photometric system (mean error=0.4 mag).


Celsius was the first to perform and publish careful experiments aiming at the definition of an international temperature scale on scientific grounds. In his Swedish paper “Observations of two persistent degrees on a thermometer” he reports on experiments to check that the freezing point is independent of latitude (and of atmospheric pressure). He determined the dependence of the boiling of water on atmospheric pressure which was accurate even by modern day standards. He further gave a rule for the determination of the boiling point if the barometric pressure deviates from a certain standard pressure. He proposed the Celsius temperature scale in a paper to the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala, the oldest Swedish scientific society, founded in 1710. His thermometer was calibrated with a value of 100° for the freezing point of water and 0° for the boiling point. In 1745, a year after Celsius’ death, the scale was reversed by Carl Linnaeus to facilitate more practical measurement. Celsius originally called his scale “centigrade” derived from the Latin for “hundred steps”. For years it was simply referred to as the Swedish thermometer.


Celsius conducted many geographical measurements for the Swedish General map, and was one of earliest to note that much of Scandinavia is slowly rising above sea level, a continuous process which has been occurring since the melting of the ice from the latest ice age. However, he wrongly posited the notion that the water was evaporating.


In 1725 he became secretary of the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala, and served at this post until his death from tuberculosis in 1744.

Here’s a map of the world showing all the nations that use the Celsius scale, and those that use the Fahrenheit scale. Hmmmm.


Barely visible are the Bahamas, Belize, the Cayman Islands, and the Republic of Palau.

This is why I often use both Celsius and Fahrenheit in my recipes (sop to the USA). Anyway, I’m slightly haphazard about metric versus imperial measure in general because I’m not a big fan of precision in cooking in general (except baking). It’s hard enough for me to include measures at all. With oven temperatures I give exact measures because ovens come that way, but I don’t think in those terms. I think in heuristic terms, such as hot, medium, etc. Partly this is because ovens are so variable. At one time I used an internal oven thermometer, but these days I wing it. My oven in China never got hot enough for me, and my current one seems to have two settings – furnace and off. I manage.

The cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) is native to Sweden and very popular there. Sadly, it is very difficult to cultivate, so it’s almost impossible to find fresh cloudberries outside of northern latitudes. Nonetheless, I am going to give you a recipe for cloudberry ice cream made with fresh berries. Slightly modified, this recipe can be made with cloudberry preserves, which are much more easily found worldwide. I am choosing ice cream for today’s celebration because Celsius determined that the freezing point of pure water was invariant (and so became one end of his temperature scale). Also, Swedes are the heaviest consumers of ice cream in the world. Cloudberry ice cream and chilled cloudberry cream are common favorites.


Hjortronglass (Cloudberry Ice Cream)


18 ounces fresh cloudberries (about 4 cups)
¾ cup sugar, divided
4 large egg yolks
kosher salt
1½ cups heavy cream, divided
2 tsp fresh lemon juice


Cook the berries and ¼ cup of sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the berries are soft and starting to release their juices. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Set aside ½ cup of sauce. Purée the remaining sauce in a blender until smooth, and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a measuring glass (you should have about 1 cup). Let cool.

Whisk the egg yolks, a pinch of salt, and the remaining ½ cup sugar in a medium bowl until lightened in color. Bring 1 cup of cream to a boil in a medium saucepan. Immediately remove from the heat and very gradually whisk half of the cream into the egg yolk mixture. Be very careful here because you can easily scramble the egg. Whisking constantly, add the egg mixture to the remaining cream in the pan and then cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the custard is thickened, about 2 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. Chill until cold.

Whisk the custard, berry purée, lemon juice, and remaining ½ cup of cream until smooth. Process in an ice cream maker of your choice.

Spoon in the reserved berry sauce, then scrape the ice cream into an airtight container (you want nice streaks of sauce still visible). Cover and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours.

Nov 172015


On this date in 1810 Sweden was forced by Napoleon to declare war on Britain, but the so-called Anglo-Swedish War was a completely bloodless war because neither “belligerent” wanted it. They had been allies and trading partners and wanted to keep it that way. So the “war” existed on paper only. That’s the kind of war I can get behind 100%. Since the “war” did not happen I cannot present images. Instead I’ll intersperse some images of Swedish dishes that Brits might like.


During the Napoleonic Wars until 1810, Sweden and the United Kingdom were allies in the war against Napoleon. As a result of Sweden’s defeat in the Finnish War and the Pomeranian War, and the following Treaty of Fredrikshamn and Treaty of Paris, Sweden was forced to declare war on the United Kingdom. Britain was still not hindered in stationing ships at the Swedish island of Hanö and trade with the Baltic states.


The Treaty of Paris, concluded on 6 January 1810, forced Sweden to join the Continental System, a trade embargo against Great Britain. Since Great Britain was Sweden’s biggest trade partner this caused economic difficulties, and trade continued to take place through smuggling. On 13 November 1810 France delivered an ultimatum to the Swedish government demanding that within five days Sweden:

Seize all British ships in Swedish ports,

Seize all British products in Sweden.

France and its allies threatened to declare war against Sweden if it did not meet the French demands. So, on 17 November the Swedish government declared war against Great Britain.


No acts of war occurred during the conflict, but Britain stationed boats in Hanö, which had been invaded. Sweden didn’t try to hinder the occupation as it supported the continued trade. Nevertheless, fearing the possibility of a British invasion, the Swedish government began to conscript more farmers into military service. This led to the only bloodshed during the war on 15 June 1811, when Major-General Hampus Mörner with 140 men acted to disperse a group of farmers in Klågerup in Scania who objected to the conscription policy. In the Klågerup riots, Mörner’s soldiers killed 30 farmers. But this was internal only, and not aggression against Britain.


The Swedish Crown Prince Charles August had died on 28 May 1810, and on 21 August 1810, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte was elected crown prince of Sweden. Though he was only the Crown Prince and technically subservient to the King, he was de facto ruler of Sweden due to the deteriorating health and disinterest of King Charles XIII. Under Bernadotte’s rule, Sweden’s relationship with France deteriorated. When France occupied Swedish Pomerania and the island of Rügen in 1812, Sweden sought peace with Great Britain.

After long negotiations, the Treaty of Orebro was signed on 18 July 1812. On the same day and at the same place, Britain and Russia signed a peace treaty bringing the Anglo–Russian War of 1807–1812 to an end and also the Anglo-Swedish “War.”

I think Swedish meatballs makes a suitable Anglo-Swedish dish to celebrate the non-war. Swedish meatballs are better known in the U.S. than Britain, largely because meatballs in general are less common in Britain than the U.S. I’ll give a recipe for you but the idea is very basic (as is Swedish cooking in general). Make meatballs with a mix of ground veal and pork. Fry them and serve them with a creamed beef gravy. They are traditionally served with lingonberries or lingonberry preserve, slices of salted cucumber, and mashed potato. It’s best to serve them smothered in gravy, but have more gravy on hand for guests to help themselves.


Köttbullar (Swedish Meatballs)



4 tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs
4 tbsp milk
225 g/8 oz ground pork
225 g/8 oz ground veal (or beef)
2 tbsp grated (not chopped) onion
1 egg, lightly beaten
salt and freshly ground pepper

butter for frying


250 ml/1 cup beef stock
2 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch), mixed with a little water
freshly ground black pepper
200 ml/¾ cup single cream


Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk in a large mixing bowl for about 5 minutes.

Add the meat, grated onion, egg, and salt and pepper to taste. I always grate onions for meatballs, hamburgers, etc. because grating brings out the onion taste more. Mix everything with your hands (preferably), or a wooden spoon, until everything is evenly mixed.

Take a tablespoon of the mixture and roll it with your hands until it is round. Repeat until you have about 30 meatballs. They should be quite small.

Heat a tablespoon of butter in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Do not let it brown. Sauté the meatballs in batches, browning them all over by shaking the pan repeatedly, then turning the heat down to let them cook all the way through. Keep them warm.

Add the stock and corn flour mixture to the skillet. Turn up the heat and simmer the gravy until it has thickened and smooth. I usually use a whisk for this step. Add the cream plus salt and pepper to taste, and warm through.

Apr 202015


On this date in 1535 several sun dogs and other solar phenomena appeared over Stockholm for two hours in the morning (between approximately 07:00 and 09:00). the skies over the city were filled with white circles and arcs crossing the sky, while additional suns (i.e., sun dogs) appeared around the sun. The phenomenon quickly resulted in rumors of an omen of God’s forthcoming revenge on King Gustav Vasa (1496–1560) for having introduced Protestantism during the 1520s and for being heavy-handed with his enemies allied with the Danish king.

Hoping to end speculations, the Chancellor and Lutheran scholar Olaus Petri (1493–1552) ordered a painting to be produced, known as Vädersolstavlan (pictured), documenting the event. When confronted with the painting, the king, however, interpreted it as a conspiracy – the real sun of course being himself, threatened by competing fake suns, one being Olaus Petri and the other the clergyman and scholar Laurentius Andreae (1470–1552), both thus accused of treachery, but eventually escaping capital punishment. The original painting is lost, but a copy from the 1630s survives and can still be seen in the church Storkyrkan in central Stockholm.

Sun dogs (or sundogs), mock suns or phantom suns, scientific name parhelia (singular parhelion), are an atmospheric phenomenon that consists of a pair of bright spots on either side on the Sun, often co-occurring with a luminous ring known as a 22° halo. Sun dogs are a member of a large family of halos, created by light interacting with ice crystals in the upper atmosphere. Sun dogs typically appear as two subtly colored patches of light to the left and right of the Sun, approximately 22° distant and at the same elevation above the horizon as the Sun. They can be seen anywhere in the world during any season, but they are not always obvious or bright. Sun dogs are best seen and are most conspicuous when the Sun is close to the horizon.


Sun dogs are commonly caused by the refraction (bending) of light through flat ice crystals either in high and cold cirrus or cirrostratus clouds or, during very cold weather, drifting in the air at low levels, in which case they are called diamond dust. The crystals act as prisms, bending the light rays passing through them with a minimum deflection of 22°. As the crystals gently float downwards with their large hexagonal faces almost horizontal, sunlight is refracted horizontally, and sun dogs are seen to the left and right of the Sun. Larger crystals wobble more, and thus produce taller sundogs.

Sun dogs are red-colored at the side nearest the Sun; farther out the colors grade through oranges to blue. However, the colors overlap considerably and so are muted, never pure or saturated like rainbows. The colors of the sun dog finally merge into the white of the center circle. The same plate shaped ice crystals that cause sun dogs are also responsible for the colorful circumzenithal arc, that is, a circular indistinct “rainbow” appearing directly overhead. These two types of halo tend to occur, the latter often missed by viewers, however, since it is located more or less directly overhead. Another halo variety often seen together with sun dogs is the 22° halo, which forms a ring at roughly the same angular distance from the sun as the sun dogs, thus appearing to interconnect them.


Sun dogs have been recorded since ancient times. Aristotle notes that “two mock suns rose with the sun and followed it all through the day until sunset.” He says that “mock suns” are always to the side, never above or below, most commonly at sunrise or sunset, more rarely in the middle of the day. The poet Aratus mentions parhelia as part of his Catalogue of Weather Signs; according to him, they can indicate rain, wind, or an approaching storm. Artemidorus in his Oneirocritica (‘On the Interpretation of Dreams’) included mock suns amongst a list of celestial deities. A passage in Cicero’s On the Republic (54–51 BC) is one of many by Greek and Roman authors who refer to sun dogs and similar phenomena:

Be it so, said Tubero; and since you invite me to discussion, and present the opportunity, let us first examine, before any one else arrives, what can be the nature of the parhelion, or double sun, which was mentioned in the senate. Those that affirm they witnessed this prodigy are neither few nor unworthy of credit, so that there is more reason for investigation than incredulity.

The 2nd century Roman writer and philosopher Apuleius in his Apologia XV asks “What is the cause of the prismatic colors of the rainbow, or of the appearance in heaven of two rival images of the sun, with sundry other phenomena treated in a monumental volume by Archimedes of Syracuse.”

The prelude to the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in Herefordshire, part of the Wars of the Roses in England, in 1461 is supposed to have involved the appearance of a complete parhelion with three “suns”. The Yorkist commander, later Edward IV of England, convinced his initially frightened troops that it represented the three sons of the Duke of York, and Edward’s troops won a decisive victory. The event was dramatized by William Shakespeare in King Henry VI, Part 3, and by Sharon Kay Penman in The Sunne In Splendour.

Possibly the earliest clear description of a sun dog is by Jacob Hutter, who wrote in his Brotherly Faithfulness: Epistles from a Time of Persecution:

My beloved children, I want to tell you that on the day after the departure of our brothers Kuntz and Michel, on a Friday, we saw three suns in the sky for a good long time, about an hour, as well as two rainbows. These had their backs turned toward each other, almost touching in the middle, and their ends pointed away from each other. And this I, Jakob, saw with my own eyes, and many brothers and sisters saw it with me. After a while the two suns and rainbows disappeared, and only the one sun remained. Even though the other two suns were not as bright as the one, they were clearly visible. I feel this was no small miracle.

The observation most likely occurred in Auspitz (Hustopeče) in Moravia on October 31, 1533.

This brings us back to Vädersolstavlan depicting Stockholm in 1535. The original painting, which was produced shortly after the event and traditionally attributed to Urban Målare (“Urban [the] Painter”), is lost, and virtually nothing is known about it. However, a copy from 1636 by Jacob Heinrich Elbfas held in Storkyrkan in Stockholm, is believed to be an accurate copy and was until recently erroneously thought to be the restored original. It was previously covered by layers of brownish varnish, and the image was hardly discernible until carefully restored and thoroughly documented in 1998–1999.

The painting was produced during an important time in Swedish history. The establishment of modern Sweden coincided with the introduction of Protestantism and the break-up with Denmark and the Kalmar Union. The painting was commissioned by the Swedish reformer Olaus Petri, and the resulting controversies between him and King Gustav Vasa and the historical context remained a well-kept secret for centuries. During the 20th century the painting became an icon for the history of Stockholm, and it is now frequently displayed whenever the history of the city is commemorated.

The painting is divided into an upper part depicting the halo phenomenon viewed vertically and a lower part depicting the city as it must have appeared viewed from Södermalm in the late Middle Ages. The medieval urban conglomeration, today part of the old town Gamla stan, is rendered using a bird’s-eye view. The stone and brick buildings are densely packed below the church and castle, which are rendered in a descriptive perspective (i.e., their size relates to their social status, rather than their actual dimensions). Scattered wooden structures appear on the surrounding rural ridges, today part of central Stockholm. Though the phenomenon is said to have occurred in the morning, the city is depicted in the evening with shadows facing east.

The wooden panel measures 163 by 110 centimetres (64 by 43 inches) and is composed of five vertical deals (softwood planks) reinforced by two horizontal dovetail battens. The battens, together with the rough scrub planed back, have effectively reduced warping to a minimum and the artwork is well preserved, with only insignificant fissures and attacks by insects. A dendrochronological (tree ring) examination of the panel by doctor Peter Klein at the Institute für Holzbiologie in Hamburg determined that it is made of pine deals (Pinus silvestris), the annual rings of which date from various periods ranging from the 1480s to around 1618. The painting can therefore date no further back than around 1620. This is consistent with the year 1636 given on the frame and mentioned in the parish accounts.

The lost original painting is attributed to Urban Målare by tradition. However, historical sources and other works of art from the early Vasa Era are rare, and this attribution is apparently doubtful. Furthermore, as the extant painting has proven to be a 17th-century copy, and not as previously believed a restored original, a credible corroboration is unlikely to ever be produced.

In the parish accounts, the painting is first mentioned in 1636, at which time a “M. Jacob Conterfeyer” was recorded as having “renewed the painting hanging on the northern wall”. Modern scholarship has convincingly identified Jacob Heinrich Elbfas (1600–1664), guild master from 1628 and court painter of Queen Maria Eleonora from 1634, as the artist responsible. Based on the brief note referencing the painting’s “renewal” in 1636, it was long assumed that the extant painting was in fact the original from 1535, and that the work performed on it in the 17th century was little more than restoration of some kind. However, when the painting was taken down in mid-October 1998 to allow a group of experts from various fields to restore and document it, this notion had to be completely reassessed.

When the painting was thus copied in the 17th century from the 16thcentury original, the painting was furnished with a Baroque frame carrying a heart-shaped cartouche. This cartouche displayed the message:

The twentieth day in the month of April was seen in the sky over Stockholm such signs from almost seven to nine in the forenoon. . .

In 1523, as the newly elected King of Sweden, Gustav Vasa had to unify a kingdom which, unlike a modern nation-state, was composed of separate provinces not necessarily happy with his reign. He also had to prepare for a potential Danish attack, and resist the influence of German states and merchants with an interest in reintroducing the hegemony of the Hanseatic League over the Baltic lands. Facing these challenges, the king saw conspiracies everywhere — sometimes correctly — and started to thoroughly fortify his capital while purging it of potential enemies. Shortly after his coronation, Gustav Vasa heard of the reformatory (Lutheran) sermons delivered by Olaus Petri in Strängnäs and called him to Stockholm to have him appointed councilor in 1524.

When Petri announced his marriage the following year, the solemnity of the celebration infuriated Catholic prelates to the extent Petri was excommunicated, while the king, in contrast, gave his unreserved support. Although the king and the reformer collaborated initially, they started to pull in different directions within a few years. As the king carried out the Reformation from 1527, Catholic churches and monasteries were demolished or used for other purposes. Petri strongly opposed the king’s methods of depriving the church of its assets and in his sermons he began to criticize the king’s actions. While both the king and Petri were thus devoted to both establishing what was to become the Swedish state and the new religious doctrine, they were also involved in domestic struggle for power, a situation fuelled by various enemies and Counter Reformation propaganda.

The primary historical source describing the events following the celestial phenomenon is the minutes of the proceedings from the king’s legal process against the reformers Olaus Petri and Laurentius Andreae in 1539–1540. The process was originally described in the chronicle of Gustav Vasa written by the clerk and historian Erik Jöransson Tegel in the early 17th century.

Sun dogs are mentioned in the Swedish Old Farmer’s Almanac (Bondepraktikan) which states that the phenomenon forecasts strong winds, and also rain if the sun dogs are more pale than red. According to the passage in the Vasa Chronicle, however, both Petri and the master of the mint Anders Hansson were sincerely troubled by the appearance of these sun dogs. Petri interpreted the signs over Stockholm as a warning from God and had the Vädersolstavlan painting produced and hung in front of his congregation. Notwithstanding this devotion, he was far from certain on how to interpret these signs and in a sermon delivered in late summer 1535, he explained there are two kinds of omens: one produced by the Devil to allure mankind away from God, and another produced by God to attract mankind away from the Devil — one being hopelessly difficult to tell from the other. He therefore saw it as his duty to warn both his congregation, mostly composed of German burghers united by their conspiracy against the king, and the king himself.

However, on his return to Stockholm in 1535, the king had prominent Germans imprisoned, and accused Petri of replacing the law with his own “act of faith”. In response, Petri warned his followers that the lords and princes interpreted his sermons as rebellious and complained about the ease with which punishment and subversion were carried through, while restoring “what rightly and true is” was much harder. In a sermon published in 1539, Petri criticized the misuse of the name of God “now commonly established”, a message clearly addressed to the king. Petri also explained to his congregation that the Devil ruled the world more obviously than ever, that God would punish the authorities and those who obeyed them, and that the world had become so wicked that it was irrevocably doomed.

The king’s interpretation of the phenomenon, however, was that no significant change was presaged, as the “six or eight sun dogs on a circle around the true sun, have apparently disappeared, and the true natural sun has remained itself”. He then concluded that nothing was “much different, since the unchristian treason that Anders Hansson and several of that party had brought against His Highness, was not long thereafter unveiled”. The king referred to the so-called “Gun Powder Conspiracy” uncovered in 1536, which aimed at murdering him by a blasting charge hidden under his chair in the church. This resulted in various death sentences and expatriations, including Mint Master Anders Hansson who was accused of being a counterfeiter.

Petri further excited royal disapproval by writing a chronicle describing contemporary events from a neutral point of view. Both Olaus Petri and Anders Hansson were eventually sentenced to death as a result of the trial in 1539/1540, but were later reprieved. In the end, the king achieved his main aim, and the appointment of bishops and other representatives of the church was placed under his jurisdiction.

When Tegel’s Vasa Chronicle was published in 1622, the section describing the king’s legal process and death sentences against the reformers was regarded as unfavorable to the Vasa dynasty and was subsequently left out. The original manuscript, finally published in 1909, was, however, not the only account of the events. The oldest report, dating from the 1590s, is a handwritten manuscript simply confirming the event, and a publication on meteorological phenomena published in 1608 described the halo in 1535 as “five suns surrounding the right one with its rings as still depicted in the painting hanging in the Great Church.”

Knowledge of the events faded: in 1622 when the Danish diplomat Peder Galt asked for the meaning of the signs in the painting, he could get no replies anywhere in the city. He translated the Swedish text then accompanying the painting to Latin — “Anno 1535 1 Aprilis hoc ordine sex cœlo soles in circulo visi Holmie a septima matutina usque ad mediam nonam antermeridianam” — and concluded that the real sun represented Gustav Vasa and the other suns his successors, an assumption he thought confirmed by contemporary Swedish history. Even this confused report was soon forgotten and in 1632 the halo display in the painting was described in a German leaflet as three beautiful rainbows, a ball, and an eel hanging in the sky over the Swedish capital day and night for four weeks in 1520, furthermore interpreted as a prophecy announcing the forthcoming liberation of Protestant Germany by “the Lion from the North” (i.e. King Gustavus Adolphus).

With the publishing of the first Swedish ecclesiastical history in 1642, the interpretation of the painting and the historical details surrounding it found a new path to follow. Relying on a publication from 1620, the sun dogs are said to have appeared first to King John III (1537–1592) on his deathbed – the painting subsequently being produced by the papist-friendly king in order to save the souls of the Protestant kingdom – and a second time before King Gustavus Adolphus shortly before his death at the Battle of Lützen in 1632.

The 1592 date remained the established one until the 19th century. In the 1870s, however, several publications corrected the dating and within a few decades 1535 became the generally accepted date. The painting’s correct historical context was finally laid bare with the publication of the censored manuscript from the Vasa Chronicle in 1909.


Over time, the painting has become emblematic of the history of Stockholm, and as such appears frequently in various contexts. The 1000 kronor banknote issued in 1989 shows a portrait of King Gustav Vasa, based on a painting from the 1620s, in front of details from Vädersolstavlan. In the arcs of the parhelion is the microtext SCRIPTURAM IN PROPRIA HABEANT LINGUA, which roughly translates to “Let them have the Holy Scripture in their own language”. This is a quote from a letter written by the king in which he ordered a translation of the Bible into the Swedish language.

Two stamps engraved by Lars Sjööblom were produced in March 2002 for the 750th anniversary of Stockholm. They were both printed in two colors, an inland postage depicts the entire old town, while the 10 kronor stamp focuses on the castle and the church.


For the restoration of the Gamla stan metro station in 1998 the artist Göran Dahl furnished the walls and floors with motifs from various medieval textiles and manuscripts, including the Överhogdal tapestries and the 14th-century Nobilis humilis (Magnushymnen) from the Orkney Islands. Vädersolstavlan is prominently featured on the eastern wall just south of the platform where the terrazzo wall depicts the emblematic sun dog arcs interwoven with enlarged fragments of textiles.[31]

The painting is also used on a variety of merchandise — such as puzzles, posters, notebooks, etc. — in museum shops and other cultural institutions in Stockholm, like the Museum of Medieval Stockholm and the Stockholm City Museum.


I’ve already given a general account of Swedish cuisine ( which tends to be plain, but quite varied, with an emphasis on seafood and meat. The best known Swedish offering is smörgåsbord, an elaborate presentation of numerous dishes. Now I give you smörgåstårta. If you think the two are related terms, you are right. Smörgås means (open-faced) sandwich – so smörgåsbord means “sandwich table” and smörgåstårta means “sandwich cake.” It is not really a cake as such, but looks like one. It is really four layers of bread with creamy fillings between the layers and an elaborate decoration on top. Here’s a good video on the construction of one:

Toppings and fillings are cook’s choice, as ever. The toppings usually reflect the contents of the fillings which can be anything you like (including vegan ingredients) bound with a fresh mayonnaise or like binder. I enjoy prawns, salmon, and herring. Here’s a gallery for ideas.

sun6 sun5 sun4 sun3

Apr 302014


Today is Walpurga’s Night or May Eve, the day before May Day. In this case “night” really does mean night, but “eve” signifies the day and night before, and not just the night before, although the waning hours are the most important. The word “eve” is confusing nowadays because it seems to mean “evening,” but it does not. Rather, it means “verge of,” hence, it can refer to the whole day. Many, many important festivals have events associated with their eve, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve being the most obvious. Often the eve of a saint’s day is concerned with some form of prognostication (see Eve of St Agnes, 20 Jan.). Others are times when the normal world order is temporarily suspended and, because of this, mystical beings have a chance to appear to mortals. All Hallows Eve (Hallowe’en) springs to mind (not coincidentally, 6 months from May Eve). Some of these customs have faded in the modern era, victims of the needs of industrialism and the general disenchantment of the world. But Walpurga’s Night survives in a great many countries in northern Europe.



In the mid to late 20th century many movements sprang up based on the belief that European folk customs, such as those associated with May Day, are survivals of ancient pagan (pre-Christian) ceremonies. Such belief is almost entirely founded on 19th century British and German social anthropology which was dominated by, and fed, the Romantic Movement. The most well known figure now from this era is Sir James George Fraser whose Golden Bough was, and is, extremely influential. But he had a slew of contemporaries such as Andrew Lang (famous in his day for his Fairy Books), and Edward Burnett Tylor who coined the term “survivals” for folk customs. These scholars have faded in importance in the academic world because their theories were deeply flawed, and based on shaky, or zero, primary evidence, that is, written documents from ancient times. Primary evidence simply does not exist in most cases, and we cannot construct robust theories with no data (although there seems to be an endless stream of people willing to try). We can categorize their work nowadays as wishful thinking. But, let me be clear. If you want to do all kinds of mystical things on May Eve, that’s just fine with me. The disenchantment of the modern world, that is, the loss of mystery in the popular mind in favor of the pragmatics of modern science and technology, is just dreadful. I celebrate everyone who wants to get dressed up, or drink too much, or cavort around a bonfire, or sing raucously, or whatever on May Eve. Done it all myself at one time or another. What gets my hackles up as a scholar who has spent decades in dusty archives researching old documents (I have two file cabinets stuffed with notes and photocopies), is the notion that these customs have their roots in the deep dark mysteries of pagan Europe. Show me the evidence and I will believe you. It does not exist.

I also want to point out that there are two quite distinct sets of customs associated with 1 May in Europe which tend to get muddled these days: the Celtic festival of Beltane, and the northern European/Germanic celebration of May Day. Obviously they are both spring festivals and so, naturally, share elements. But the central ethos of each is quite different. Maybe next year I’ll focus on Beltane. This year May Day holds sway.

The current festival is, in most countries that celebrate it or have celebrated it, named after the English missionary Saint Walpurga (c.710–777/9). Because Walpurga was canonized on 1 May (c. 870), she became associated with May Day, especially in northern Europe. The eve of May Day, traditionally celebrated with dancing, came to be known as Walpurga’s night (Walpurgisnacht in German and Dutch, Valborgsmässoafton in Swedish, Vappen in Finland Swedish, Vappu in Finnish, Volbriöö, (Walpurgi öö) in Estonian, Valpurgijos naktis in Lithuanian,Valpurģu nakts or Valpurģi in Latvian, čarodějnice and Valpuržina noc in Czech). In most of these countries Walpura’s Night celebrations have lapsed, are minor, or have transformed into different events. For example, in Germany there are still a few places where people play pranks and light bonfires, but in the big cities it is usually used as an occasion for left wing groups to rally in preparation for May Day. Finland and Sweden, however, still have major festivities.


In Finland, Walpurga’s Night/Day (Vappu) is one of the four biggest holidays along with Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and Midsummer (Juhannus). There are huge carnival-style festivals held in the streets of Finland’s towns and cities. The celebration, which begins on the evening of 30 April and continues to 1 May, typically centers on copious consumption of sima (recipe below), sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages. Student traditions, particularly those of the engineering students, are one of the main characteristics of Vappu. Since the end of the 19th century, this traditional upper-class feast has been appropriated by university students. Many lukio (university-preparatory high school) graduates (who are, thus, traditionally assumed to be university bound), wear a cap. It is common to eat freshly cooked funnel cakes (name) along with sima, a mildly alcoholic lemonade.

In Helsinki and its surrounding region, fixtures include the capping (on 30 April at 6 pm) of the Havis Amanda, a nude female statue in Helsinki, and the biennially alternating publications of ribald matter called Äpy and Julkku, by engineering students of Aalto University. Both are juvenile; but while Julkku is a standard magazine, Äpy is always a gimmick. Classic forms have included an Äpy printed on toilet paper and a bedsheet. Often, the magazine has been stuffed inside standard industrial packages, such as sardine cans and milk cartons. For most university students, Vappu starts a week before the day of celebration. The festivities also include a picnic on 1 May, which is sometimes prepared in a lavish manner, particularly in Ullanlinnanmäki—and Kaisaniemi for the Swedish-speaking population—in Helsinki city.


Valborgsmässoafton bonfires are part of a Swedish tradition dating back to the early 18th century. In Southern Sweden, an older tradition, no longer practiced, was for the younger people to collect greenery and branches from the woods at twilight. These were used to adorn the houses of the village. The expected reward for this task was to be paid in eggs.

Choral singing is a popular pastime in Sweden, and on Valborgsmässoafton virtually every choir in the country is busy. Singing traditional songs of spring is widespread throughout the country. The songs are mostly from the 19th century and were spread by students’ spring festivities. The strongest and most traditional spring festivities are also found in the old university cities, such as Uppsala and Lund, where undergraduates, graduates, and alumni gather at events that last most of the day from early morning to late night on April 30th, or siste april (“The Last Day Of April”) as it is called in Lund, or sista april as it is called in Uppsala. For students, Valborgsmässoafton heralds freedom. Exams are over and only the odd lecture remains before term ends. On the last day of April, the students wear their characteristic white caps and sing songs of welcome to spring, to the budding greenery and to a brighter future.

In Uppsala, since the mid-1970s, students honor spring by rafting on Fyrisån through the center of town with rickety, homemade, in fact quite easily wreckable, and often humorously decorated rafts. Several student groups also hold “Champagne Races” (Champagnegalopp), where students go to drink and spray champagne or somewhat more modestly priced sparkling wine on each other. The walls and floors of the old nation buildings are covered in plastic for this occasion, as the champagne is poured around recklessly and sometimes spilled enough to wade in. Spraying champagne is, however, a fairly recent addition to the Champagne Race. The name derives from the students running down the downhill slope from the Carolina Rediviva library, toward the Student Nations, to drink champagne.

In Linköping, the students and public gather at the courtyard of Linköping Castle. Spring songs are sung by the Linköping University Male Voice Choir, and speeches are made by representatives of the students and the university professors.

In Gothenburg, the carnival parade, The Cortège, which has been held since 1909 by the students at Chalmers University of Technology, is an important part of the celebration. It is seen by around 250,000 people each year. Another major event is the gathering of students in Trädgårdsföreningen to listen to student choirs, orchestras, and speeches. An important part of the gathering is the ceremonial donning of the student cap, which stems from the time when students wore their caps daily and switched from black winter cap to white summer cap.

In Umeå, there is a tradition of having local bonfires. During recent years, however, there has been a tradition of celebrating Valborgsmässoafton at Umeå University. The university organizes student choir songs, there are different types of entertainment and a speech by the president of the university. Different stalls sell hot dogs, candies, soft drinks, etc.

For Walpurga’s Night here are two traditional Finnish recipes, sima and tippaleivät (funnel cakes).




1 gallon water
3 large lemons
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar plus sugar for bottles
¼ tsp yeast
25 raisins


Bring the water to a steady boil. Meanwhile, use a lemon zester or a potato peeler to remove the outer yellow rind of 2 of the lemons in strips, placing these in a large glass or plastic (non-metal and heat-proof) container. Peel or trim off the bitter inner white rind of the lemons and discard. Slice the lemons and place in the container with the zest, adding brown and white sugar.

Once the water boils, pour it into the container with the lemons and sugar. Let it cool to lukewarm, then stir in yeast. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for 24 hours, or until the surface begins to bubble.

Strain the liquid into clean glass bottles, quart jars, or plastic containers.

Slice the remaining lemon and add the slices plus 5-6 raisins and 1 teaspoon of sugar to each bottle. Seal tightly and refrigerate for 2-5 days, or until the raisins float.

Keep refrigerated and serve cool.

Yield: 4 quarts (about 20 servings).





2 eggs
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
oil for frying


In a heavy pot or deep fryer, bring cooking oil to 375°F/190°C.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar lightly, then stir in the milk. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and stir until you have a smooth batter. Work quickly because once the liquid is added the baking powder is active.

Transfer the batter to a pastry tube with a small tip, or improvise with a freezer bag with the top sealed and a small holed snipped from one corner.

When the oil is hot, use one hand to dip a metal ladle in the oil until it is half filled. With your other hand quickly pipe the batter in a swirled, criss-crossed pattern into the ladle to make a bird’s nest. Lower the ladle completely into the oil. The fritter should immediately float to the top of the fryer. Allow the fritter to turn golden on the bottom and then flip it over with a slotted metal spoon to brown on the other side.

Remove the fritter with a slotted spoon and drain on a wire rack. You can work in small batches of 2 or 3 at a time. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm.